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Poster: larus Date: Sep 6, 2012 3:10am
Forum: feature_films Subject: Re: 99 river st 1953

The reasoning isn't "If Alpha doesn't have it, it's not PD". It's "If it's a well-known film and Alpha doesn't have it, there's a good chance that either it's still under copyright or it's not under copyright but there are underlying issues that make it impossible to distribute regardless".

The reason some of us use the Alpha Video catalog to double-check for possible issues is that the public domain status of a film depends on factors besides the copyright notice or the renewal and Alpha is one of the most prolific PD distributors.
Most films are derived from novels, short stories or plays, and the status of these has an effect on whether the films can be distributed.
A well-known example is that of It's a wonderful life (1946), whose copyright wasn't renewed but which still cannot be distributed because it is based on a short story which is still under copyright. Charade (1963) is in a similar situation because the screenplay was registered separately and is still under copyright.
Another well-known case is the British film Pygmalion, which fell out of copyright in the US after not being renewed, but which US courts determined could not be freely distributed because it was based on a play that was still under copyright.
A final interesting example (although this film was never PD to start with) is that of Rear Window (1954), which could not longer be distributed by the filmmakers when the copyright owner for the source novel (originally written by Cornell Woolrich) decided to terminate the film rights.

As for notices, you can't trust them unless you own one of the original 32mm prints (and I mean original, as copyright notices on reissue prints can be tampered, either by accident or by design).

So researching the copyright status of a film becomes very complicated. First, you have to check the notice, registration and renewal. If these point to the film being PD, you then have to check if the screenplay was copyrighted separately. If the film is derived from a novel, short story or play, you have to check the status of the original work as well. All of this is time consuming.
In this light, distribution by a PD company such as Alpha is a quick way to figure out which films are safe to upload without digging out the status of the underlying works

Of course, just because Alpha Video, Mill Creek, or some other well-known PD distributor) doesn't carry doesn't a title indeed does not mean it's not public domain. It may be that no 16mm or 32mm print is circulating, or that the film is very obscure.
However, if you can find a PD film that has several hundred or thousand votes on IMDB and that Alpha doesn't carry (for reference, 99 River Street has 600 votes on IMDB), then I'd like to hear about it.

Again there are hundreds if not thousands of shorts/cartoons features on this site that are public domain that are NOT out by ALPHA VIDEO.
Please give us a list of those that have more than 50 votes on IMDB.

This post was modified by larus on 2012-09-06 10:10:07

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Poster: Video-Cellar Date: Sep 6, 2012 6:01am
Forum: feature_films Subject: Re: 99 river st 1953

It is interesting that a seemingly common sense suggestion to check if a film has been made available by a primarily public domain distributor with an extensive catalog (just over 3000 titles) has caused such debate. I thought that looking the film's video and DVD exploitation history was the starting point for most people's suspicion of PD status. From there you can test the suspicion by conducting the correct research.

You are right. There are so many levels of copyright in a film, there are very few major films that are completely in the public domain. Previously published plays, novels, stories, screenplays, music, etc pose all sorts of problems for a film entering the public domain. You even have court decisions that effectively cancel out the chance for any film that is a sequel or part of a series based on copyright characters or story elements from a previous installment entering the public domain for as long as the earlier episode is copyright. Even if, otherwise, it is an original story.

It is more common for b-stream and poverty row films to have underlying copyrights that have also expired than it is form major studio productions to. Many of the smaller studios did not have good copyright practices. Some did not register their films at all. This is why a company like Alpha's catalog is at least 75% Tiffany, Invincible, Majestic, PRC, Monogram, Pine-Thomas, etc pictures.

Even with the best research the only films that it can be guaranteed are public domain are most of those that were published in 1922 or earlier.

This post was modified by Video-Cellar on 2012-09-06 13:01:26